A position by position comparison of the 1998 Padres to the current team

Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Credit: AP Photo

Can the 2021 Padres pitching upgrades yield a comeback victory?  Are they close to the level of a team that can win a World Series?  Or, are they many steps away?

Starting Rotation

#1 Pitcher  

The Contestants: 1998’s Kevin Brown and 2021’s Yu Darvish

1998 Kevin Brown

GS

Inn

W

L

ERA

CG

ShO

FIP

WHIP

HR/9

BB/9

SO/9

ERA+

35

257.0

18

7

2.38

7

3

2.23

1.066

7.9

.3

9.0

164

2021 Yu Darvish (Fangraphs Projection)

GS

Inn

W

L

ERA

CG

ShO

FIP

WHIP

HR/9

BB/9

SO/9

ERA+

26

151.0

10

6

3.52

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

121

Kevin Brown dominated 1998 like few pitchers.  Brown was unique in his dominance of the Braves both in a Florida Marlins uniform and in a San Diego Padres uniform.  He was the kind of ace addition that had not been on the mound for the Padres previously.  When he showed up, it almost immediately signaled the Padres had arrived.  And, he did not disappoint.  His ERA+ was a dominant 164 in 1998.

Based upon Fangraphs projections, Yu Darvish is granted the ace spot in the rotation due to his ERA+ being higher than any other projected 2021 Padres starter.  Certainly, Darvish brings the kind of repertoire and resume to lead a championship contender into waters that haven’t recently been sailed.  He’s a veteran for whom MLB prognosticators have admitted upon his trade to San Diego that he now “gets it” as a pitcher on the mound.  In other words, a more consistent high-level performance can be expected.

Though Darvish brings much-needed swing and miss stuff to the rotation, his projection is no match for 1998 Brown.  The National League champions take the lead now over the 2021 crew.  It simply wasn’t close.  The 1998 Padres take a commanding lead, 10-4.

2021 Padres 4, 1998 Padres 10

#2 Pitcher  

The Contestants: 1998’s Andy Ashby and 2021’s Blake Snell

1998 Andy Ashby

GS

Inn

W

L

ERA

CG

ShO

FIP

WHIP

HR/9

BB/9

SO/9

ERA+

33

226.2

17

9

3.34

5

1

3.99

1.240

0.9

2.3

6.0

117

2021 Blake Snell (Fangraphs Projection)

GS

Inn

W

L

ERA

CG

ShO

FIP

WHIP

HR/9

BB/9

SO/9

ERA+

26

133.3

11

7

3.51

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

121

The addition of Blake Snell, as gloriously and rightly as it’s been lauded, really hasn’t shown in this projection to be that impressive.  Fangraphs only projects 133 innings from Snell, and while a 3.51 ERA is good in general terms, it certainly doesn’t scream ace-like most Padres fans are expecting.  The dominant Snell outing the baseball world observed in Game 6 of the 2020 World Series versus the Dodgers tends to be what fans imagine every fifth day in the upcoming season.  Fangraphs doesn’t support that enthusiasm fully. 

Andy Ashby was an underrated bulldog, toeing the rubber in the shadow of a true ace. He made back-to-back All-Star campaigns in 1998 and 1999, though, and is one of few pitchers to throw an immaculate inning.  But, in a tight race, his numbers here come up just short, even with a mightily tempered outlook for Snell.  The 2021 Padres get back on the board.

2021 Padres 5, 1998 Padres 10

#3 Pitcher  

The Contestants: 1998’s Sterling Hitchcock and 2021’s Dinelson Lamet

1998 Sterling Hitchcock

GS

Inn

W

L

ERA

CG

ShO

FIP

WHIP

HR/9

BB/9

SO/9

ERA+

27

176.1

9

7

3.93

2

1

4.45

1.231

1.5

2.4

8.1

99

2021 Dinelson Lamet (Fangraphs Projection)

GS

Inn

W

L

ERA

CG

ShO

FIP

WHIP

HR/9

BB/9

SO/9

ERA+

24

124.7

9

5

3.61

N/A

N/A

3.57

N/A

1.1

3.8

11.7

118

A healthy Dinelson Lamet produced a sensational season in 2020.  The Fangraphs projections made in November of 2020 for 2021 pulled a name comparison that should bring awe and joy to Padres fans: Bob Gibson.  Yes, that Bob Gibson.  Now, this was early Bob Gibson, but even so, it indicates what type of projections Lamet offers a World Series contender if healthy.  Preller shared recently that Lamet is on track for a healthy 2021, and with him toeing the slab at full strength, the sky’s the limit for the 2021 Padres starting rotation.  

Sterling Hitchcock’s finest moments in a San Diego uniform occurred in the postseason.  He earned NLCS Most Valuable Player honors and famously was the subject of Atlanta Braves outfielder Deion Sanders‘s words, “I don’t even know who Sterling Hitchcock is.  I thought he was Alfred’s kid.  Him throwing at me wasn’t too cool.”  

Though Padres fans likely know all about this Hitchcock thriller, his regular season in 1998 earned an ERA+ of 99.  Lamet’s projection of 118 takes this battle giving the 2021 version of the Padres a much-needed victory in this head-to-head war.

2021 Padres 6, 1998 Padres 10

#4 Pitcher  

The Contestants: 1998’s Joey Hamilton and 2021’s Adrian Morejon

1998 Joey Hamilton

GS

Inn

W

L

ERA

CG

ShO

FIP

WHIP

HR/9

BB/9

SO/9

ERA+

34

217.1

13

13

4.27

0

0

4.26

1.500

0.6

4.4

6.1

92

2021 Adrian Morejon (Fangraphs Projection)

GS

Inn

W

L

ERA

CG

ShO

FIP

WHIP

HR/9

BB/9

SO/9

ERA+

17

56.3

5

3

3.83

N/A

N/A

3.75

N/A

1.1

3.7

10.7

111

The final two spots in the rotation are some of the least projectible aspects of the 2021 San Diego Padres.  Again, the Fangraphs projections are from November of 2020, and several possible remaining starters exist, including Joey Lucchesi, MacKenzie Gore, Chris Paddack, Adrian Morejon, Jesse Scholtens, and Pedro Avila.  Fangraphs projections show each logging at least 56.3 innings, with Scholtens logging 120.7.  There is always the chance Preller makes yet another move, or a bargain bin veteran impresses in Spring training.  The water in this comparison is, at best murky.  

Some liberties had to be taken here, and Adrian Morejon was selected for two reasons: 1) he holds the highest ERA+ projection of the possible starters (111), and 2) he is likely one of the final two starters based upon his success down the stretch in 2020 and his general ability.

What we do know for sure is 1998’s Joey Hamilton was a stalwart.  He logged 217 innings as the team’s third starter. However, his ERA+ finished fourth of the 1998 rotation, so he’s listed here.  There are certainly other ways to attack this part of the Padres World Series comparison. Still, regardless of who is slotted here to oppose Hamilton, only Scholtens projects an ERA+ lower than Hamilton.  Victory here goes to the 2021 team.

2021 Padres 7, 1998 Padres 10

#5 Pitcher  

The Contestants: 1998’s Mark Langston and 2021’s Chris Paddack

1998 Mark Langston

GS

Inn

W

L

ERA

CG

ShO

FIP

WHIP

HR/9

BB/9

SO/9

ERA+

16

81.1

4

6

5.86

0

0

5.07

1.820

1.2

4.5

6.2

67

2021 Chris Paddack (Fangraphs Projection)

GS

Inn

W

L

ERA

CG

ShO

FIP

WHIP

HR/9

BB/9

SO/9

ERA+

30

157.0

12

8

3.98

N/A

N/A

3.98

N/A

1.4

2.1

9.5

109

The final rotation spots are both questionable.  As for 1998, Mark Langston’s starts outnumber Pete Smith’s 16 to 8, and he was clearly the more impactful piece, so he’s the choice for this battle.  But, even Stan Spencer logged nearly a half-dozen starts.  

As for 2021, and as mentioned above, the projections work through several names.  Following the logic used for the fourth starter projection above, Chris Paddack both have the highest remaining ERA+ and is the most likely talent to be tabbed.

Though Paddack had an up and down 2020, and the luster has maybe been dimmed on the shine of a once future ace, he rebounds nicely in 2021 Fangraphs projections and dominates this battle.  The sky is still the limit for him.  

As a comparison, November’s projections for Mike Clevinger (assuming his health at that time) yielded an ERA+ of 127, which would have made him the ace of this staff even after adding Darvish and Snell as well as the potential for Lamet and others.  Nonetheless, Paddack grants the 2021 Padres another win in the starting rotation as we head to the bullpen.

2021 Padres 8, 1998 Padres 10

Closer  

The Contestants: 1998’s Trevor Hoffman and 2021’s Drew Pomeranz

1998 Trevor Hoffman

GS

Inn

W

L

ERA

CG

ShO

FIP

WHIP

HR/9

BB/9

SO/9

ERA+

73

4

2

1.48

2.04

0.849

0.2

2.6

10.6

265

2021 Drew Pomeranz (Fangraphs Projection)

GS

Inn

W

L

ERA

CG

ShO

FIP

WHIP

HR/9

BB/9

SO/9

ERA+

59

4

2

3.66

3.74

N/A

1.1

4.9

12.2

116

As one may already be thinking, the 2021 Padres bullpen is likely a long way from the composition we’ll see on Opening Day.  However, the comparison is still worthy of consideration.  How close is the current team to a National League championship-caliber team?  

Drew Pomeranz’s 2020 was dominant; he yielded 3 earned runs in 20 games, and all 3 came in a September 25 appearance against the San Francisco Giants in his final regular-season appearance.   Could Pomeranz close for a League champion?  It’s certainly possible.

However, his competition is with a Hall-of-Famer who once held the record for the most saves in the history of the game.  Trevor Hoffman has a statue in California, and his performance in 1998 is one of the contributing factors.  His 265 ERA+ is stunning, and his changeup remains one of the most baffling pitches in the history of the game.  

Though Pomeranz had no ERA until the last outing of the season, Hoffman over doubles Pomeranz’s projected ERA+.  Victory goes to 1998 in commanding fashion.

2021 Padres 8, 1998 Padres 11

Relief #1  

The Contestants: 1998’s Donne Wall and 2021’s Austin Adams

1998 Donne Wall

GS

Inn

W

L

ERA

CG

ShO

FIP

WHIP

HR/9

BB/9

SO/9

ERA+

70.1

5

4

2.43

4.06

1.166

0.8

4.1

7.2

161

2021 Austin Adams (Fangraphs Projection)

GS

Inn

W

L

ERA

CG

ShO

FIP

WHIP

HR/9

BB/9

SO/9

ERA+

41.3

4

2

3.05

3.28

N/A

0.9

5.7

14.4

139

The setup roles and middle relief will be guesswork at this time for several reasons.  Again, the purpose of this is to see just how close the 2021 team is to what is arguably the greatest team in Padres history.  Again, this competition has consistently put ERA+ projections as the foremost organizational factor, and the yield here is Donne Wall (not Dan Miceli) and Fangraphs’s darling, Austin Adams.

Donne Wall ground opponents down, and even though in reality he wasn’t the 8th inning set-up artist, his ERA+ makes him the second-best bullpen arm of the 1998 squad.  

His numbers best Austin Adams, the 2021 Padres second-best projected reliever, pulling the 1998 team ahead by 4 players.  Adams, however, projects team-high strikeouts per 9 innings at a jaw-dropping 14.4.  In an era where strikeout pitching is at a premium, Preller, and company quietly brought aboard a potentially dominant relief piece in last year’s deadline deal with the Mariners.

2021 Padres 8, 1998 Padres 12

Relief #2  

The Contestants: 1998’s Dan Miceli and 2021’s Craig Stammen

1998 Dan Miceli

GS

Inn

W

L

ERA

CG

ShO

FIP

WHIP

HR/9

BB/9

SO/9

ERA+

72.2

10

5

3.22

3.44

1.252

0.7

3.3

8.7

122

2021 Craig Stammen (Fangraphs Projection)

GS

Inn

W

L

ERA

CG

ShO

FIP

WHIP

HR/9

BB/9

SO/9

ERA+

63

6

3

3.43

3.37

N/A

0.9

2.0

8.1

124

One of the closest battles in this war of greatness pits the second-best middle relief roles of Dan Miceli against the projected work of esteemed veteran Craig Stammen.  

Miceli was one of the most valuable pieces of the 1998 team, amassing a stunning 15 decisions over his 72 innings.  He seemed to constantly be thrown into challenging situations, and he constantly seemed to rise to the challenge.  His tandem with Hoffman made the 1998 team iron-clad if in the lead through 7 innings.

Stammen has been around, and his veteran presence has been a boon for the bullpen.  Stammen has been very effective in significant stretches during his time in a San Diego uniform, and his performance numbers project very similarly to Miceli.

However, it is difficult to expect an often supporting piece over the years like him to take a massive jump forward into a high-leverage role as Fangraphs projects.  However, the data gives Stammen the edge and brings the 2021 Padres within three players. 

2021 Padres 9, 1998 Padres 12

Relief #3  

The Contestants: 1998’s Carlos Reyes and 2021’s Jose Castillo

1998 Carlos Reyes

GS

Inn

W

L

ERA

CG

ShO

FIP

WHIP

HR/9

BB/9

SO/9

ERA+

27.2

2

2

3.58

4.15

1.048

1.3

2.0

7.8

110

2021 Jose Castillo (Fangraphs Projection)

GS

Inn

W

L

ERA

CG

ShO

FIP

WHIP

HR/9

BB/9

SO/9

ERA+

63.7

4

2

3.53

3.59

N/A

1.1

3.7

11.9

120

The next highest ERA+ pits the third-best middle relief roles of Carlos Reyes against the projected work of talented-but-injury prone Jose Castillo.  

Reyes only appeared in 22 games in 1998, but his effectiveness places him ahead of names like Brian Boehringer and Scott Sanders.

Castillo, when healthy, has shown tantalizing stuff and results.  However, he’s missed 2 full seasons of performance in essence, and though Fangraphs rightly touts him at an ERA+ of 120, that is a far less than sure thing here in early January.  The projection stands, though, and his 11.9 strikeouts per 9 innings would be behind only Adams, Pomeranz, Trey Wingenter (12.6), and Mason Fox (12.1) in the organization.  If Castillo were to perform to projection, the Padres’ relief corps is much closer to a finished product than currently anticipated.  His ERA+ would rank behind only Adams, Stammen, Darvish, and Snell, and he’d be only 1 behind both Darvish and Snell.  What a fantastic reinforcement he would prove to be if these numbers take flesh and blood.  The 2021 Padres are knocking on the door, down 2 players.

2021 Padres 10, 1998 Padres 12

Relief #4  

The Contestants: 1998’s Scott Sanders and 2021’s Emilio Pagan

1998 Scott Sanders

GS

Inn

W

L

ERA

CG

ShO

FIP

WHIP

HR/9

BB/9

SO/9

ERA+

30.2 

3

1

4.11

4.05

1.239

1.5

1.5

7.6

96

2021 Emilio Pagan (Fangraphs Projection)

GS

Inn

W

L

ERA

CG

ShO

FIP

WHIP

HR/9

BB/9

SO/9

ERA+

64.7

4

2

3.62

3.74

N/A

1.4

2.5

10.7

117

When Emilio Pagan was acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays, closer was a potential roster spot for him.  The fact that he’s projected as the 5th best bullpen arm by Fangraphs gives light to two truths in this contest: 1) San Diego’s depth in the 2021 bullpen may lack names but not quality, and 2) Fangraphs loves the arms assembled by Preller and the Padres’ front office over the recent past.  One could also guess projections like these have been a rock-solid, primary piece of evidence used in their player acquisition process. 

Pagan’s projections easily dispatched 1998’s Scott Sanders though Sanders was an important piece of the 1998 National League championship bullpen.  

Huge comeback coming through an underrated bullpen?  2021 Padres pull within one player with two players to go.

2021 Padres 11, 1998 Padres 12

Relief #5  

The Contestants: 1998’s Brian Boehringer and 2021’s Tim Hill

1998 Brian Boehringer

GS

Inn

W

L

ERA

CG

ShO

FIP

WHIP

HR/9

BB/9

SO/9

ERA+

76.1

5

2

4.36

5.01

1.572

1.2

5.3

7.9

90

2021 Tim Hill (Fangraphs Projection)

GS

Inn

W

L

ERA

CG

ShO

FIP

WHIP

HR/9

BB/9

SO/9

ERA+

57.0

3

2

3.63

3.72

N/A

0.8

3.2

8.4

117

Brian Boehringer was another important piece of the 1998 champion roster, and his juxtaposition with Tim Hill, a complementary piece of the 2020 squad, seems unequally placed.  Fangraphs must see a much more important role for Hill in 2021, and his ERA+ projects that his work will warrant it.  The sidearming lefty has overcome cancer and evolved from a specialist to a key contributor.

The 2021 Padres have come all the way back to tie it up with one relief pitcher battle left to go.

2021 Padres 12, 1998 Padres 12

Relief #6  

The Contestants: 1998’s Stan Spencer and 2021’s Pierce Johnson

1998 Stan Spencer

GS

Inn

W

L

ERA

CG

ShO

FIP

WHIP

HR/9

BB/9

SO/9

ERA+

30.2

1

0

4.70

3.73

1.076

1.5

1.2

9.1

84

2021 Pierce Johnson (Fangraphs Projection)

GS

Inn

W

L

ERA

CG

ShO

FIP

WHIP

HR/9

BB/9

SO/9

ERA+

56.0

4

3

3.70

3.54

N/A

1.0

3.7

10.4

115

Stan Spencer was a spot starter and reliever for the 1998 Padres, and he likely was unaware that a comparison/contrast with the projected lineup of the 2021 Padres would come down to a head-to-head with him as the anchor end of his side of the tug-o’-war.  But that’s what exists.  Spencer is a National League champion, as are all of the 1998 Padres names used in this war.  They, like Spencer, have already achieved their end result, and it matches the best effort in over 50 years of organizational efforts to win a World Series title.  But, it isn’t enough to best the 2021 Fangraphs projected Padres.

Pierce Johnson proved to be a tremendous bullpen arm in the 2020 Padres run.  He was particularly strong in his postseason efforts versus the Cardinals.  Johnson’s projections mirror the Zips projections for the unit as a whole. If Preller and the Padres’ front office didn’t add a single bullpen piece, they are projected to be the third-best bullpen in Major League Baseball as currently constructed.  Comeback complete.

2021 Padres 13, 1998 Padres 12

Obviously, the 2021 Padres aren’t done, and that’s smart because no one else is fully constructed either.  But, what really matters in this exercise is that Padres fans can really believe their eyes and ears: there really is reason to believe in a Padres World Series run.

Even though the Mets just added Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco, the Braves get ace Mike Siroka back on the bump. The Dodgers are the reigning champions among many strong teams in the National League who will fight and claw to win the league. The San Diego Padres are maybe positioned among them better now than at any time in the history of the organization.  Winning the first World Series in franchise history won’t come easy, but based upon the numbers, there is real reason to believe that this is the year, Padres fans.

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M. Robert Klemesrud
M. Robert Klemesrud, born and currently residing in the great state of Iowa, is an educator of 25 years. Having studied journalism at the University of Iowa, played baseball in the Missouri Valley, and followed the Padres religiously for over 30 years, he has found the perfect place to align some of his passions at East Village Times.

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Total Views: 464 ,
(Visited 1,479 times, 1 visits today)
M. Robert Klemesrud
M. Robert Klemesrud, born and currently residing in the great state of Iowa, is an educator of 25 years. Having studied journalism at the University of Iowa, played baseball in the Missouri Valley, and followed the Padres religiously for over 30 years, he has found the perfect place to align some of his passions at East Village Times.